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Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1988] 2 WLR 1049;


[1989] AC 53; [1988] 2 All ER 238; [1987] UKHL 12; (1988) 152 LG Rev 709; (1988) 85(20) LSG 34; (1988) 138 NLJ Rep. 126; (1988) 132 SJ 700

NEGLIGENCE, DUTY OF CARE, POLICE DUTIES, DUTY TO APPREHEND CRIMINALS, LIABILITY TO PERSONS INJURED AS A RESULT OF CRIME

Facts

The plaintiff’s 20-year-old daughter was attacked at night in a city street and died from her injuries. The defendant was a chief constable of the area in which the street was located. The attacker was convicted of the murder of the daughter and had allegedly committed a number of offences of murder against young women in the same area over a period of years prior to the deceased’s murder. The plaintiff claimed damages against the defendant for negligence on grounds that having investigated the previous cases of murder in the area, the police had failed to apprehend the attacker and prevent the murder of her daughter. The Queen’s Bench struck out the writ and statement of claim as disclosing no cause of action. The Court of Appeal dismissed the plaintiff’s appeal.

Issues

(1) Do the police owe a general duty of care to apprehend an unknown criminal?

(2) Do the police owe a duty of care to individual members of the public who suffer injuries as a result of the activity of the criminal?

Held

The appeal was dismissed.

(1) The police could be liable in tort to persons who are injured as a direct result of their acts and omissions.

(2) However, the police do not owe a general duty of care to apprehend an unknown criminal.

(3) The police also do not owe a duty of care to individual members of the public who suffer as a result of the criminal’s activity.

(4) The only exception to this rule is where the failure to apprehend the criminal creates an exceptional added risk, different from the general risk from criminal activity to the public at large, so as to establish a sufficient proximity of relationship between the police officers and victims of crime.

The case was significant in setting the precedent for the general duty of care of the police to prevent crime and accidents.


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